Wilford Woodruff wrote, “Before I saw Joseph I did not care how old he was or how young he was. I did not care how he looked–whether his hair was long or short; the man that advanced that revelation was a prophet of God. I knew it for myself.
“I first met Joseph Smith in the streets of Kirtland. He had on an old hat, and a pistol in his hand. Said he, ‘Brother Woodruff, I’ve been out shooting at a mark, and I wanted to see if I could hit anything. And, said he, ‘Have you any objection to it?’
“‘Not at all’, said I. ‘There is no law against a man shooting at a mark, that I know of.’
“He invited me to his house. He had a wolf skin, which he wanted me to help him to tan; he wanted to sit on while driving his wagon team. ‘Well, he said, You are a pretty prophet; shooting a pistol and tanning a wolf skin.’Well, he tanned it, and used it while making a journey of a thousand miles.
“This was my first acquaintance with the Prophet Joseph. And from that day until the present, with all the apostasies we have had, and with all the difficulties and afflictions we have been called to pass through, I never saw a moment when I had any doubt with regard to this work. I have had no trial about this. While the people were apostatizing on the right hand and on the left, …it was no temptation to me to doubt this work or to doubt that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God.” (Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, ed. G. Homer Durham, Salt lake City: Bookcraft, 1946, pp. 29-30.)
The pistol, hat and wolf skin President Woodruff mentioned here along with many of their possessions have long disappeared, but a very few of his possessions and some of Emma’s have survived. One of these is Joseph and Emma Smith’s family Bible, presently in our collection. It is an important and rare physical survivor from the lives of the great Prophet, his dear wife and first family of the Restoration.
Joseph and Hyrum Smith both purchased their family Bibles from an Ohio bookstore in 1831. Following the martyrdom with his brother Hyrum in 1844, and Emma’s passing in 1879, this family treasure became the property of Alexander Hale Smith (1838-1909). Following his and his wife Elizabeth’s (1845-1919) deaths, the Bible was given to their son Arthur Marion Smith (1880-1964), and it eventually passed to his daughter Georgia Mae Smith. The Bible was purchased from Georgia, who died in 2009, at Independence, Missouri, and quickly passed through several collectors until my wife Charlene and I acquired it in 2010.
In over six decades of collecting, many wonderful items from the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have come into our hands, including over a quarter million books. Among these have been significant copies of the scriptures, including a Book of Commandments (1833), first editions of the Doctrine and Covenants (1835), Pearl of Great price (1851) and the King James Bible (1611). These have included over a hundred copies of the 1830 first edition of the Book of Mormon, many with important handwritten notes, including by witnesses and the prophet Joseph Smith. However, of all of these books, I believe his and his wife Emma’s family Bible is the most important and personal. It is also my favorite book from our collection. We have pulled it out and shared it at important family occasions, including Christmas Eve, and have let our children and grandchildren and others read from it the Christmas stories in Mathew and Luke and James 1:5, among other favorite scriptures.
Family Bibles are significant in that they often record the most important and special dates in a family’s history. The Smith family Bible contains three pages of the FAMILY RECORD, listings of births and deaths of family members.
On the left hand side of the BIRTHS section in the family record, in his own handwriting the prophet Joseph Smith recorded the names of his parents, siblings and their birthdates, including that of his big brother Alvin, who died before the work of the Restoration had been completed; but who had encouraged his young brother Joseph to remain faithful in continuing the work to which he had been called.
Below the Prophet’s handwriting, Emma Smith records the names and births of her family: the Hales, her parents and siblings. It is interesting that both the Smith and Hale families had parents and nine children listed. On the right-hand side of the BIRTHS section, Emma Smith records the names and births of each of their children, including the birth of their first child Alvin, who had died as an infant and later the twins who died at birth whom they named, Thaddeus and Louisa. She then records the names of their two step children, the twins born to John R. and is wife Julia Clapp Murdock in 1831, the adopted Joseph and Julia Murdock Smith. Emma draws a line at the beginning of her listing of their names to indicate their adoption.
Even more significantly, Emma records the birth and death at Nauvoo, February 6, 1842, (the same day) of a son we didn’t have any previous record of outside this Bible entry, whom she lists as “The 7th son”. This entry alone tells us the importance of keeping family records for each of our lives and those of our families.
On the right side of the MARRIAGE section, Emma recorded her marriage to the Prophet: “Joseph Smith Jr & Emma Hale, Jany 18 1827, in the Town of Bainbridge, Chenango County, State of New York.” On the left side of the MARRIAGE section, Emma recorded the marriage of her parents, and below that, Joseph Smith III recorded his own marriage to Emmaline Griswold.
On the page entitled DEATHS, Joseph Smith III recorded the deaths of his Smith and Hale grandparents, including the deaths of his father and uncle Hyrum at Carthage, Illinois on June 27, 1844, and the passings of his uncles Samuel and Don Carlos Smith.
This priceless relic of the Prophet’s Joseph Smith’s family is a surviving witness to the original family of the Restoration of the gospel and must be considered among the rarest of rare books.